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- St. George and St. Michael Vol. II - 2/34 -
sickness to the heart of the girl: for one moment she knew what siege and battle meant. But she recovered herself with a strong effort, and escaped from the thought by another question.
'And whence comes all this water, my lord?' she said, for she was one who would ask until she knew all that concerned her.
'Have you not chanced to observe a well in my workshop below, on the left-hand side of the door, not far from the great chest?'
'I have observed it, my lord.'
'That is a very deep well, with a powerful spring. Large pipes lead from all but the very bottom of that to my fire-engine. The fuller the well, the more rapid the flow into the cistern, for the shallower the water, the more labour falls to my giant. He is finding it harder work now. But you see the cistern is nearly full.'
'Forgive me, my lord, if I am troubling you,' said Dorothy, about to ask another question.
'I delight in the questions of the docile,' said his lordship. 'They are the little children of wisdom. There! that might be out of the book of Ecclesiasticus,' he added, with a merry laugh. 'I might pass that off on Dr. Bayly for my father's: he hath already begun to gather my father's sayings into a book, as I have discovered. But, prithee, cousin, let not my father know of it.'
'Fear not me, my lord,' returned Dorothy. 'Having no secrets of my own to house, it were evil indeed to turn my friends' out of doors.'
'Why, that also would do for Dr. Bayly! Well said, Dorothy! Now for thy next question.'
'It is this, my lord: having such a well in your foundations, whence the need of such a cistern on your roof? I mean now as regards the provision of the keep itself in case of ultimate resort.'
'In coming to deal with a place of such strength as this,' replied his lordship, '--I mean the keep whereon we now stand, not the castle, which, alas! hath many weak points--the enemy would assuredly change the siege into a blockade; that is, he would try to starve instead of fire us out; and, procuring information sufficiently to the point, would be like enough to dig deep and cut the water-veins which supply that well; and thereafter all would depend on the cistern. From the moment therefore when the first signs of siege appear, it will be wisdom and duty on the part of the person in charge to keep it constantly full--full as a cup to the health of the king. I trust however that such will be the good success of his majesty's arms that the worst will only have to be provided against, not encountered.--But there is more in it yet. Come hither, cousin. Look down through this battlement upon the moat. You see the moon in it? No? That is because it is covered so thick with weeds. When you go down, mark how low it is. There is little defence in the moat that a boy might wade through. I have allowed it to get shallow in order to try upon its sides a new cement I have lately discovered; but weeks and weeks have passed, and I have never found the leisure, and now I am sure I never shall until this rebellion is crushed. It is time I filled it. Pray look down upon it, cousin. In summer it will be full of the loveliest white water-lilies, though now you can see nothing but green weeds.'
He had left her side and gone a few paces away, but kept on speaking.
'One strange thing I can tell you about them, cousin--the roots of that whitest of flowers make a fine black dye! What apophthegm founded upon that, thinkest thou, my father would drop for Dr Bayly?'
'You perplex me much, my lord,' said Dorothy. 'I cannot at all perceive your lordship's drift.'
'Lay a hand on each side of the battlement where you now stand; lean through it and look down. Hold fast and fear nothing.' Dorothy did as she was desired, and thus supported gazed upon the moat below, where it lay a mere ditch at the foot of the lofty wall.
'My lord, I see nothing,' she said, turning to him, as she thought; but he had vanished.
Again she looked at the moat, and then her eyes wandered away over the castle. The two courts and their many roofs, even those of all the towers, except only the lofty watch-tower on the western side, lay bare beneath her, in bright moonlight, flecked and blotted with shadows, all wondrous in shape and black as Erebus.
Suddenly, she knew not whence, arose a frightful roaring, a hollow bellowing, a pent-up rumbling. Seized by a vague terror, she clung to the parapet and trembled. But even the great wall beneath her, solid as the earth itself, seemed to tremble under her feet, as with some inward commotion or dismay. The next moment the water in the moat appeared to rush swiftly upwards, in wild uproar, fiercely confused, and covered with foam and spray. To her bewildered eyes, it seemed to heap itself up, wave upon furious wave, to reach the spot where she stood, greedy to engulf her. For an instant she fancied the storming billows pouring over the edge of the battlement, and started back in such momentary agony as we suffer in dreams. Then, by a sudden rectification of her vision, she perceived that what she saw was in reality a multitude of fountain jets rushing high towards their parent-cistern, but far-failing ere they reached it. The roar of their onset was mingled with the despairing tumult of their defeat, and both with the deep tumble and wallowing splash of the water from the fire-engine, which grew louder and louder as the surface of the water in the reservoir sank. The uproar ceased as suddenly as it had commenced, but the moat mirrored a thousand moons in the agitated waters which had overwhelmed its mantle of weeds.
'You see now,' said lord Herbert, rejoining her while still she gazed, 'how necessary the cistern is to the keep? Without it, the few poor springs in the moat would but sustain it as you saw it. From here I can fill it to the brim.'
'I see,' answered Dorothy. 'But would not a simple overflow serve, carried from the well through the wall?'
'It would, were there no other advantages with which this mode harmonised. I must mention one thing more--which I was almost forgetting, and which I cannot well show you to-night--namely, that I can use this water not only as a means of defence in the moat, but as an engine of offence also against any one setting unlawful or hostile foot upon the stone bridge over it. I can, when I please, turn that bridge, the same by which you cross to come here, into a rushing aqueduct, and with a torrent of water sweep from it a whole company of invaders.'
'But would they not have only to wait until the cistern was empty?'
'As soon and so long as the bridge is clear, the outflow ceases. One sweep, and my water-broom would stop, and the rubbish lie sprawling under the arch, or half-way over the court. And more still,' he added with emphasis: 'I COULD make it boiling!'
'But your lordship would not?' faltered Dorothy.
'That might depend,' he answered with a smile. Then changing his tone in absolute and impressive seriousness, 'But this is all nothing but child's play,' he said, 'compared with what is involved in the matter of this reservoir. The real origin of it was its needfulness to the perfecting of my fire-engine.'
'Pardon me, my lord, but it seems to me that without the cistern there would be no need for the engine. How should you want or how could you use the unhandsome thing? Then how should the cistern be necessary to the engine?'
'Handsome is that handsome does,' returned his lordship. 'Truly, cousin Dorothy, you speak well, but you must learn to hear better. I did not say that the cistern existed for the sake of the engine, but for the sake of the perfecting of the engine. Cousin Dorothy, I will give you the largest possible proof of my confidence in you, by not only explaining to you the working of my fire-engine, but acquainting you--only you must not betray me!'
'I, in my turn,' said Dorothy, 'will give your lordship, if not the strongest, yet a very strong proof of my confidence: I promise to keep your secret before knowing what it is.'
'Thanks, cousin. Listen then: That engine is a mingling of discovery and invention such as hath never had its equal since first the mechanical powers were brought to the light. For this shall be as a soul to animate those, all and each--lever, screw, pulley, wheel, and axle--what you will. No engine of mightiest force ever for defence or assault invented, let it be by Archimedes himself, but could by my fire-engine be rendered tenfold more mighty for safety or for destruction, although as yet I have applied it only to the blissful operation of lifting water, thus removing the curse of it where it is a curse, and carrying it where the parched soil cries for its help to unfold the treasures of its thirsty bosom. My fire-engine shall yet uplift the nation of England above the heads of all richest and most powerful nations on the face of the whole earth. For when the troubles of this rebellion are over, which press so heavily on his majesty and all loyal subjects, compelling even a peaceful man like myself to forsake invention for war, and the workman's frock which I love, for the armour which I love not, when peace shall smile again on the country, and I shall have time to perfect the work of my hands, I shall present it to my royal master, a magical supremacy of power, which shall for ever raise him and his royal progeny above all use or need of subsidies, ship-money, benevolences, or taxes of whatever sort or name, to rule his kingdom as independent of his subjects in reality as he is in right; for this water-commanding engine, which God hath given me to make, shall be the source of such wealth as no accountant can calculate. For herewith may marsh-land be thoroughly drained, or dry land perfectly watered; great cities kept sweet and wholesome; mines rid of the water gathering from springs therein, so as he may enrich himself withal; houses be served plentifully on every stage; and gardens in the dryest summer beautified and comforted with fountains. Which engine when I found that it was in the power of my hands to do, as well as of my heart to conceive that it might be done, I did kneel down and give humble thanks from the bottom of my heart to the omnipotent God whose mercies are fathomless, for his vouchsafing me an insight into so great a secret of nature and so beneficial to all mankind as this my engine.'
With all her devotion to the king, and all her hatred and contempt of the parliament and the puritans, Dorothy could not help a doubt whether such independence might be altogether good either for the king himself or the people thus subjected to his will. But the
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